Five months after Jessica Ennis and Phillips Idowu struck gold in Berlin, British athletics was celebrating another world championship success yesterday. Unlike the heptathlon victory of Ennis and the triple jump triumph of Idowu at the 2009 World Championships in the German capital, it came with a bittersweet aftertaste.
It was at the 1997 championships in Athens that Roger Black, Jamie Baulch, Iwan Thomas and Mark Richardson were first honoured for their efforts in the men's 4x400 metres final. They stood on the podium as silver medallists while their rivals from the United States basked in a golden glow to the tune of the "Star Spangled Banner". Thirteen years on, UK Athletics, the domestic governing body of track and field, is making plans for a new medal ceremony after confirmation that that the British quartet have been upgraded from silver-lining merchants to golden boys.
The development has been long expected – since May 2008, when Antonio Pettigrew told a federal court in the United States that he had been assisted by the blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin when he helped the US team to victory in Greece. Testifying at the trial in San Francisco of his coach, Trevor Graham, Pettigrew admitted that he had taken the banned drug for four years, between 1997 and 2001.
Having missed out by 0.18sec in a thrilling final in Athens in 1997, the British quartet can now get ready to savour their overdue just reward. "We have had official notification that the medals are ours," a UK Athletics spokeswoman said yesterday. A spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations, the sport's global governing body, added: "The decision to strip Pettigrew of his medals was approved by the IAAF Council in late November 2008. At that point efforts were made to recover the original medals. In the end not all were returned, so the IAAF decided to make a new set."
Those new medals are likely to presented at a major UK Athletics event this year, either during the looming indoor or summer outdoor season.
Responding to the news, Baulch said: "I have missed out on 13 years of telling people that I am a world champion. There is a little bit of bitterness that we were robbed of the gold. I missed an opportunity to celebrate in front of 100,000 people as the sport was at its peak; it was the golden days of athletics."